H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
Hollander named Zylstra, or Pyp, or Hoogsteen. Or, for that matter, a German named Kannengiesser, or Schnapaupf, or Pfannenbecker.
But more important than this purely linguistic hostility, there is a deeper social enmity, and it urges the immigrant to change his name with even greater force. For a hundred years past all the heaviest and most degrading labor of the United States has been done by successive armies of foreigners, and so a concept of inferiority has come to be attached to mere foreignness. In addition, these newcomers, pressing upward steadily in the manner already described, have offered the native a formidable, and considering their lower standards of living, what has appeared to him to be an unfair competition on his own plane, and as a result a hatred born of disastrous rivalry has been added to contempt. Our unmatchable vocabulary of derisive names for foreigners reveals the national attitude. The French boche, the German hunyadi (for Hungarian),23 and the old English frog or froggy (for Frenchman) seem lone and feeble beside our great repertoire: dago, wop, guinea, kike, goose, mick, harp,24 bohick, bohee, bohunk, heinie, square-head, greaser, canuck, spiggoty,25 spick, chink, polack, dutchie, skibby,26 scowegian, hunkie and yellow-belly. This disdain tends to pursue an immigrant with
Note 23. This is army slang, but promises to survive. The Germans, during the war, had no opprobrious nicknames for their foes. The French were usually simply die Franzosen, the English were die Engländer, and so on, even when most violently abused. Even der Yankee was rare. Teufelhunde (devil-dogs), for the American marines, was invented by an American correspondent; the Germans never used it. Cf. Wie der Feldgraue spricht, by Karl Borgmann; Giessen, 1916, p. 23. [back]
Note 24.Cf. Some Current Substitutes for Irish, by W. A. McLaughlin, Dialect Notes, vol. iv, pt. ii. [back]
Note 25.Spiggoty, of which spick is a variant, originated at Panama and now means a native of any Latin-American region under American protection, and in general any Latin-American. It is navy slang, but has come into extensive civilian use. It is a derisive daughter of No spik Inglese. [back]
Note 26. This designates a Japanese and is apparently used only on the Pacific Coast. It originally meant a Japanese loose woman, but is now applied to all persons of the race. Tucker says that dago goes back to 1832. It is probably a corruption of Diego; it was first applied to Mexicans. The etymologies of wop, guinea and kike are uncertain, and frequently disputed. Often efforts are made to discourage the use of these nicknames. Dr. P. P. Claxton, United States Commissioner of Education, devised in 1919 a Code of Honorable Names to be subscribed to by the Boy Scouts, whereby they agreed to avoid them. But Dr. Claxton omitted all the opprobrious names for the negroes, and the fact brought forth a protest from them. See Offensive Nicknames, by James W. Johnson, New York Age, Feb. 1, 1919. [back]